Tuesday, December 24, 2019

COP 25 4th post: “We Got Owned” – Full-Blown Political Depression

I'm getting lazy; all links are below, not inserted

It's been a long news-cycle time since I've been able to blog on this. Inertia, depression, a fuck-it-all affect, cloud cover, constant rain in Spain, all that. So many losses recently, meaning so many diminished possibilities, so much more clouds of doom. A feeling humankind is stupid, greedy, hopeless -- all of 'em "turkeys voting for Christmas". But an analytic realization also that it isn't popular will at all so much as clever manipulators of the levers of "democracy" that have resulted in such a string of losses in USA, Brazil, Bolivia, Britain all with direct consequences at the COP 25.
The COP 25 concluded with a very compromised agreement. It was widely judged a failure. The grim recap on Democracy Now tells the story in detail...
The failure was mainly due to the intransigence of USA and Brazil, said reports. So the minority white supremacist neo-fascists, elected through gross manipulation of their "democracies", are to blame.
Or it's human nature – the comforts we enjoy, the luxury environments of the petroleum age, the innumerable safeties and conveniences that permeate every aspect of modern life. We are carbon-exhaling methane-expelling animals, and the world is our comfy den.
The ragged unsatisfying disappointing end to the COP 25 in Madrid plunged me into a depression. Can this collective world failure by the old white oil men who run our reality have any upside?
At least the screaming has gotten a little louder. People are going to jump into their cars anyhow and head off to – places they might could walk, bike or take a bus to, but they might feel a twinge of guilt on how they lead their lives. You think? The individual behavior solution...
Wait. Is it my job to be upset and depressed? Is that the best you can do? I spent a good deal of my youth upset about US foreign policy, about the vicious behavior of imperium. On that front, nothing has much changed. It’s just now less out of sight, thanks to global mediasphere. We follow in the footsteps of de las Casas and Mark Twain in bitching about it, and trying to raise the old hue and cry…

Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
-- James Baldwin, quoted by XR at rebellion.earth

Blood Debt – Carbon Over-Spending and the Question of Loss & Damage

I’ve written in earlier posts about the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in frontline communities. It’s nothing new. These are the people under the cow-catcher of the railroad train of progress. They’re still being shot down in the South American countryside by who-knows-who, and investigated by the officials of who-really-cares. And in Canada, the Mounties are getting ready to shoot to kill indigenous water protectors resisting oil pipeline construction across their unceded lands.

Cutout for faces at the exhibition “Devuélvannos el oro” (give us back the gold), produced by the Colectivo Ayllu at the Matadero cultural center during the Afroconciencia festival, 2018. (See the book as a PDF, link below.)

Who Will Pay?

But as tiny island nations are already disappearing, and millions stand to be displaced – the big question of how to construct a sufficient global response to climate change remains unaddressed.
Saleemul Huq explains in UN-ese: “The specific technical point here in Madrid … is something called the review of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage. The developing countries have a united front here. We want that review to take it forward with an implementation arm and a finance arm. And the finance part is something that the United States is completely against. And so far we haven’t got a decision on that." Huq is a climate scientist and director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh, advising the bloc of Least Developed Countries in the climate negotiations.

The Law

Just as in “the resistance” to Rump in USA, people involved in the UN process turn to law. And, while authoritarians from Rump to Netanyahu are openly contemptuous of legal process, it does serve to bend opinion of those who value civil society, norms of behavior, and not being capriciously murdered by others.
It is the intention of the IAI’s International Tribunal on Evictions (mentioned in the previous post) to create a different class of human rights. Climate refugees have no rights. The Central Americans moving to the North Ameican border can only claim asylum based on persecution by governments, rights – (non-respected as even those were) – based upon the tragedies of the last major war.
Lawyers work for the villains in the piece as well, as the notorious right-wing ALEC group designs copycat legislation to repress water defenders, those who oppose and resist pipeline construction in North America.

As for Art….

The famous whale of my earlier posts finally made its appearance on the streets of Madrid, although I missed the parade. It was the centerpiece, the symbolic casket, in a funeral march for the death of the seas – Marcha de los Mares Muertos. As a peninsular country with a large fishing indusry, Spain is more sensitive to problems of the sea. The great inland sea lake, Mar Menor, suffers high pollution, a crisis marked by recent mass asphyxiations of thousands of fishes.

This funeral procession was first assayed in England. A byproduct of the switch of COP location from South America to Europe was that suddenly many English and European activists could come. XR groups could share skills and contacts. While I could wish that some more of my friends on the art left had been involved, the solidarity shown the indigenxs and XR internationals by Madrid’s institutions was generous – from the UGT union building in the city center given over to serve as an impromptu hostel and organizing center to the multi-purpose building on the UCM campus which was the site of the Cumbre Social meetings.
(I can’t really imagine that level of institutional soldarity from the milquetoast institutions of the USA, although we’ll see what happens in Milwaukee during the 2020 Democratic convention.)
All of this was a relief after the eviction of La Ingobernable had deprived Madrid’s left of a central city organizing site.

Elite Art Influencers

I popped into one institutional art event, a “COP25 side event,” at the Caixa Forum organized by @artofchange21, supported by the French Schneider Electric Foundation. They had an exhibition up in Chile, where a lot of climate-related events went on.
The idea of the project is to present artists and entrepreneurs together. Very neoliberal, yeah, or as one artivist on my Telegram group said, “a crock of shite.” Even so, ideas are ideas, and we can all use more of them.
The Madrid talk was sparsely attended, evidence of the lack of lead time institutions need to mobilize their cadres of indentured learners (students). How much more useful, I imagine, might this event have been had it been presented at the Cumbre Social at UCM?
Fernando Garcia Dory of Campo Adentro was on the panel, which lured me. A ruralist intellectual, Garcia Dory comes from social movements. He received a prize from Creative Time, which is how I met him. Campo Adentro later organized an informational event for students at the Reina Sofia museum. The work of the group is the most sophisticated I know on behalf of rural food producers and the local food movement.

John Gerrard: Western Flag (Spindletop, Texas) 2017; part of the presentation, at the Thyssen museum in Madrid during COP 25; very sophisticated artwork, an animation

Michael Pinsky won my heart as a lifelong hater of cars. The artist designer built “pollution pods” at the COP25 conference site, working with perfumers to generate simulations of pollution levels in different cities inside a chain of transparent bubble domes. Example: Delhi has a pollution index around 1000; Madrid is around 30. Suddenly I understood that earlier mask workshop I had dismissed as child’s play. For that level of respiratory distress, there is no coca you can chew.
I was reminded of Brother Nut's project in Beijing, to make bricks out of the pollution int he air. Rather art-of-changey in itself, Nut was working off a Dutch engineer’s machine to extract partculates from air.

Nut Brother with Beijing smog brick. Hindustan Times photo

Both projects are about making it real. Like old-timey London “fog” (not fog at all but smokestack industrial pollution), this is now something people in developed countries rarely experience.

Movement of Movements?

The climate action movement is not new. But the issue has grown like Topsy, vaccuming up many other social concerns to add to its insistent pre-eminence.

This was signalled a few years ago by Naomi Klein with her book "This Changes Everything” (multiple summaries appear online).

Klein had already advanced the thesis that, while “disaster capitalism” seizes upon moments of collective trauma to make authoritarian economic and political changes, disasters also bring out the solidarity impulse among the people directly affected. This offers a path for social movements, seized early on in 2012 when elements of the Occupy Wall Street movement turned out to provide hurricane relief as Occupy Sandy (the name of the storm). Yates McKee’s book Strike Art tells this story well.
Bad climate events are offering local movements unlooked-for chances to expand and mobilize people. Activists are taking advantage of governments that either can’t or won’t help fast enough, or at all.
Katrina with G.W. Bush, and Maria under Rump are clear examples. While the anarchist solidarity groups active after Katrina, as chronicled by Scott Crow, are little known, self-organized relief efforts impulsed by anarchists in Puerto Rico have been better publicized.
The website Shareable.net has just published a manual in PDF for this kind of solidarity, “The Response: Building Collective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters”.

“Tell the Truth”

XR activists hoist boats in demonstrations emblazoned with that motto. And, while the near-unanimous scientific predictions don’t seem to hold public attention, many artists bet that stories will. Storylabs, sharings of climate grief, prizes for the best ones, songs – all of this is becoming part of the quickly arising climate culture.
“We thought there was more time,” wrote Enmedio in their pitch for the Sound Swarm action, “or that climate change would somehow be resolved by experts with technological magic, but no. Right now, with the 6th mass extinction looming on the horizon, we continue the same orgy of consumerism that provoked this crisis.”
The television programs continue to urge us to recycle, conserve water, etc., in between their advertisements for automobiles. They can’t say what scientists have been telling us, that the key problem is the burning of fossil fuels.

It’s Still Resistance Culture

For the 20 year anniversary of the Seattle WTO protests (Nov. 30 – Dec. 1, 1999), Robby Herbst posted his recollection of this watershed activist event in North America to Facebook (11/29/19). The co-editor of the Journal of Aesthetics & Protest had been involved in the setup of the first Indymedia venture which reported on the demonstrations in the street. (I followed that exciting live-time website, and recall persistent attempts to hack it via the comments sections.) Robby said he missed the international network that opposed the global ministerial conferences like WTO in Seattle – the “global justice movement” – and praised its ad hoc infrastructure.
That infrastructure is still a little there, as I saw in the Koch Kollectiv feeding people at the Cumbre, and also on the street during the march. The people running those kitchens today were mostly children during the era of WTO protests. I delight to see the long strands of popular resistance.
“Twenty years on,” Robby writes, “I’m comforted to know that the movements that have come up since then, BLM Occupy #Metoo etc, are informed by what has come before – in spite of the fact that much of the meat spaces that informed us, like info-shops and zines and free-culture, have gone ephemeral or been commoditized.... Though in the day to day it gets clouded with some of the timidness of existence, 20 years ago in Seattle we proved another world is possible, and today that proof is still there waiting to grow from that fecund mess we call the capitalist empire”.
Next year, Extinction Rebellion and the Indigenous Environmental Network will try to add another radical mass movement to Robby’s list. On to Glasgow….

Links below the note.
NOTE on climate and food refugees –
Quoting Hossein Ayazi, policy analyst with the Global Justice Program at the Othering & Belonging Institute at the University of California, Berkeley and co-author of the report, “Climate Refugees: The Climate Crisis and Rights Denied”:
“Crop failures and droughts in the Central American Dry Corridor [were] behind the Central American migration caravan, the migrant caravan, that dominated [U.S.] news cycles last year." We didn't hear about that. We heard about criminal gangs threatening their lives. The framing of that was not climate refugees. The migrants can only claim refugee status presently based on criminal or political threats to their lives. Ayazi continues, while we refer to climate-induced displaced persons as “climate refugees,” “this is actually not a legally recognized term; [it] is not a term within international refugee protections.” It is “fundamentally impossible to tie a specific climate-related natural disaster to a specific actor of persecution, whether it’s a corporation — fossil fuel corporations or fossil fuel-dependent industrial processes."
Most displacement is internal, where people have some rights within nations. Those who cross international borders have no such rights. The concept "petro-persecution” is invoked to de-link the legal concept of "persecution" from territory – where “the actor of persecution is actually our global dependence upon fossil fuels and the global investment patterns behind this dependence."
There are also "food refugees", people displaced due to "land grabs or natural resource grabs, seed monopolies, international free trade agreements — basically, what people might describe as the corporate food regime or corporate food system."
This attempt to build a new legal definition of refugee status, aligned with the IAH tribunal of climate refugees mentioned in this blogs’ previous post, is a thinking beyond the simple ideological commitment to open borders. That sentiment of humanitarian internationalism remains unconvincing to legions of U.S. and EU voters who are swayed by nationalist arguments from the right.

Enmedio collective Sound Swarm during Climate March


“grim recap” – I quote the experts Saleemul Huq and Hossein Ayazi on the issues from: Democracy Now wrapup, on Portside.org
|COP25 Was a Failure, But Activists’ Collective Organizing at the Talks Was Unprecedented; Amy Goodman with Tasneem Essop, Asad Rehman, and others

“getting ready to shoot” – Canadian police ready to kill to protect Coastal GasLink pipeline against Indians.
"Founded in 2009, Unist’ot’en camp was the first among a constellation of Indigenous-led uprisings against fossil fuel pipelines in North America – including Keystone XL, Trans Mountain, Enbridge Line 3, Dakota Access and Bayou Bridge.

“Devuélvannos el oro” book download

Mar Menor, Murcia, Spain

Carlos Prieto, "Muerte del Mar Menor: el informe ignorado que alertó de la catástrofe hace 20 años"

“Brother Nut's project in Beijing” – Chinese artist uses 'vacuum cleaner' to turn smog into brick
By Matt Rivers, CNN, December 8, 2015

“multiple summaries appear online” – one is at Resilience.or: Naomi Klein, “This Changes Everything” summary

“Occupy Sandy” activism – E-flux discussion around the book "Strike Art: Contemporary Art and the Post-Occupy Condition,” by Yates McKee, London & NYC: Verso Books, 2016

“The website Shareable.net has published a manual” – “The Response: Building Collective Resilience in the Wake of Disasters”

Indigenous Environmental Network project

Saturday, December 14, 2019

3rd Post – “The Crying COP”

Indigenxs at the COP 25. Photo from XR Madrid Twitter feed.

"This is the crying COP."
– Bill Hare, Australian scientist with Climate Analytics, interviewed on Democracy Now

This blog is spozed to cover collective and collaborative work In the field of art. Most I’ve considered has been political, and much of it explicitly so. This recent series of posts is about work around the COP 25 meeting in Madrid, where the “art” component, called “artivism” has been primarily direct actions, launched by the relatively new group Extinction Rebellion – XR.
I wasn’t part of the affinity groups which launched these actions, nor did I see them. My information comes from mainstream media, mainly the online Democracy Now and broadcast La Sexta channel in Spain, and social media – Facebook, Twitter, and the Telegram streams of the XR artivist groups.
That’s how I learned about #SoundSwarm, the work of the Enmedio collective which includes originators of the word “artivism” (the coinage came during the Global Justice Movement) – and the “Disco-becience”, two hours of dancing in the Gran Via shopping street to disrupt holiday consumption – and the “oil” vomiting at the COP site itself, carried out by XR.
There have been other actions at the main COP site as well. But the main actions of the indigenous groups have been stage occupations and walkouts. These are old-school political actions by the beleaguered minority. They are cries of rage and frustration, as the majority moves on without them – refusing to help indigenous land and water defenders; and refusing to put a leash on oil gas and mining industries.

"Land Back" – "Oceans Back"
– International Climate Action Network (CAN) banner slogans

Traditional indigenous people live off the land, and they feel first the impacts. Both north and south, First Nation peoples are pressed by the continuation and expansion of resource extraction and the workers, including corporate and government thugs, who invade indigenous lands to continue their violent plunder.
“Stop Climate Colonialism” banner slogan condemns the insidious carbon trading scheme. This weird financial product resembles the medieval sale of indulgences, although in this case Mother Church is capitalism itself.

Quentin Massys, “The Money Changer and His Wife” (1514)

If Trump’s USA has left the COP, why are the corporations still here, watering down every measure, with the European nations right behind them?, asked Karin Nansen, Friends of the Earth International. It’s necropolitics.
Wednesday Democracy Now reported the dramatic protest by indigenous land defenders and their allies at the COP 25 conference zone which climaxed in a walk-out. The action happens during the on-screen interviews with leaders of Indigenous Environmental Network and Friends of the Earth. Tom B.K. Goldtooth warns them, Don’t go, you’ll lose your badges. That is just what happened. Some were arrested, others were “debadged” so they could not re-enter the COP. (Video is about 18 min. with transcript.)


Second half of the Wednesday walkout broadcast on Thursday -- talking outside.…
It wasn’t exactly a “walkout”, but rather a kettling by UN security forcing protestors out of the conference and into the cold for hours.


“Matriarchy Is Not the Opposite of Patriarchy”

In the room named for Camilo Catrillanca, a Mapuche farmer killed by Chilean police last year, I attended an IEN talk on indigenous feminism. My partner wanted to go, so I went along. I did not get the names of the two speakers (could they have been with the Indigenous Feminist Organizing School?), but the talk was fascinating. One of them, from the Minnesota Anishinaabe people, spoke from historical perspective.
The two women do workshops on indigenous feminism lasting several days. They are trying to “right the imbalance that was created by patriarchal colonialism. … Matriarchy,” she said, “is not the opposite of patriarchy.”
Chilean Mapuche activist Camilo Catrillanca (image by Gabriel Jímenez y Patricio Morales; eldesconcierto.cl)

A major issue among North American natives now is the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW). Many if not most of these crimes relate to places where extraction is happening – mining, oil and timber.

This Matter is Murder

Women are delberately attacked, she said, because they are the backbone of native societies and lead activism. “Violence on the land goes with violence on the body” of women. She spoke of traditional native culture, and of the centuries of attacks by white governance on their education, food systems, governance – in all of which women had strong roles.
Her mother was active in AIM (American Indian Movement) during the 1970s. Because of “terrible health care”, she said, “I am now older than my mother and grandmother lived to be.” She was not able to learn things from them. “Patriarchy has robbed me of my matriarchal line,” the knowledges and practices that should have been hers.
When the trade in beaver skins developed in the 18th and 19th century (Astor Place), the colonists would only trade and negotiate with the men. This had been women’s traditional role. Thus the tribal system was upended. Only men were trained and hired to be writers and recorders, she said. We are still living with that “introduced patriarchy” among our men.

Vomiting “petroleum” at COP 25. Photo from XR Madrid Facebook page.

Subsequent impositions of systems of governance modelled on U.S. systems limited or eliminated the role of women in decision making.
(This has been very clear in the many clashes between “traditionals” – tribal elders, both men and women, coming from traditional systems of governance – and elected tribal leaders and bodies of governance set up by U.S. agencies. The latter tend to be the ones that sign extraction contracts with oil gas and mining companies.)

Lunch and a Tribunal

The Cumbre Social was extremely lively during its first few days, before people emptied out to go do actions at the COP itself, which was far away.
We ate our lunch that day, at a stand outside run with Campo Adentro, a long-running artistic project that visibilizes herders in rural communities. Earlier children and their parents had waited by the forest across the street, but the transhumante animal herd scheduled for the parking lot never showed up. Even so, we enjoyed a simple guisado with meat and vegetables as a herder, wearing a reflective vest and leaning on his staff, stood by.
Next I looked in on the International Tribunal on Evictions organized by the International Alliance of Inhabitants. This group, long active in NGO level defense of both rural and urban peoples’ housing occupations, has been producing live-streamed presentations of cases of climate related displacements. “We are not insects!”, to be pushed from one place to another without provision. The first case was Venice, Italy, where “extinction tourism” has emerged. Come, enjoy the ruin your way of life is creating.


Missing and murdered Indigenous women - Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Missing_and_murder...
The missing and murdered Indigenous women epidemic (MMIW) is an issue currently affecting Indigenous people in Canada and the United States,

The American Indian Movement, 1968-1978
Overview and set of Primary Sources

Campo Adentro - Inland

International Tribunal on Evictions – by the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAH)

Transhumancia -- the seasonal passage of the animal herds – through the center of Madrid, n.d.. Campo Adentro herders were to bring sheep to the Cumbre Social, but the herd ended up along the Manzanares river, in the ecological corridor there

Monday, December 9, 2019

Fridays for Future at COP 25

Banner drop with the words of Greta Thunberg by the Kletter Kinder

This COP conference blew up very fast. Originally scheduled for Chile, it was moved to Madrid very late. A lot of reorganizing took place. For one thing, masses of Extinction Rebellion activists from UK who had not planned on going to COP in Chile were able to make the trip to Madrid.
I’ve not been following this issue and this activism here. In Milwaukee, USA, however, there have been important “artivist” actions in solidarity with Voces de la Frontera for immigrant rights, and with Native Americans around water rights and extractive industry. Susan Simensky Bietila has been working with the tribes upstate, and Nicolas Lampert organized “art builds” in Milwaukee with David Solnit. Lampert also participated in the COP 21 in Paris in 2015, which saw some large-scale creative actions.
I was a worker in Solnit and Lampert’s art build, painting color onto screenprinted banners. Production was directed from the top, and it was clear what to do. This was my idea of what might happen in Madrid. Wrong. Meetings to plan “artivism” at CS Seco and CS Tabacalera did not produce any clear plans that I could see. In the end, groups formed with their own projects and turned up at the march to execute them.
from 20minutos

There were numerous wall exhibitions at the convergence space, the UGT union building on calle de Hortaleza in central Madrid, between the barrios Chueca and Malasaña. There were more still at the UCM university building given over the social summit, which started the weekend of December 7-8.

I Only Want to Help

Although I knew I would blog, I mainly wanted to help. Finally, dear reader, I make an inadequate reporter. These posts are collages of reports from a sprawling and complex series of events in which multiple groups acted together but apart, with only tactical coordination. My key question has been, “What can I do” to support this activism? In the end it turns out that it is writing.
For a couple of days I ran around the convergence space, putting up some of the great climate justice posters produced by the Just Seeds group, and helping out here and there. Bustling about and seeing what needed doing, I was not unsociable but remained unconnected.
I found the room where the whale was being built, after it was moved from CS Seco. A young bearded man was working on a part of the head, laboriously covering cardboard with newspaper. It seemed impossible that the skeleton could be ready for the Friday march. He was working with a young woman. She told me they were activists from Israel. She was a veteran of lockdown actions. I’m too old for that, I said. An old woman participates in our actions, she said, and the police treat her very nicely. When they all started going limp and flopping around, the police brought wheelchairs to take them away.

Big Heads on the March

In the main artivist room, the Chileans were hard at work. Their contingent was the largest and most present, both in the march and in the social summit that followed. They had started with graphic support for their #ChaoCarbon campaign to scotch the government’s plans for a chain of coal-fired power plants in Chile. This included a kind of coal-power-plant face pasted onto cardboard, and some balloon-based heads of political villains. The power-plant face showed up a lot, including behind Greta Thunberg when she spoke at the COP.

The Chileans had plenty of people, most working on the balloon heads which were laboriously built up. Piles of art gear were strewn about. There was a workshop on making jellyfish. A group of young men were stenciling “Sail to the COP” on dark blue t-shirts. They were from Amsterdam. Another bunch from their group had in fact sailed to the COP, but in Chile. Their boat was in the Caribbean. Perhaps they could go to Miami Art Basel?
The “artivism” that Extinction Rebellion does is more performative direct action. It is planned in secret and executed for maximum publicity. As a result, most of what they did I saw on commercial TV. In an action at the COP itself, XR activists stripped their tops, and painted slogans on their bodies. They covered their nipples with strips of black tape to avoid the recent media blackout of Femin actions.
Spanish TV has covered the COP 25 events fairly well. They valorized Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish activist who reversed her sailing trip to Chile to make a dramatic appearance in Madrid. She first arrived in Portugal, disembarking from her sailboat, then traveled “secretly” aboard a train to Madrid. “Hello Spanish TV,” she said as she walked along the platform surrounded by media.

Greta Smiles

Later she gave a press conference with other young activists at the Casa Encendida cultural center. Watching her on TV so far, she seems most comfortable with other children (of course), smiling only in their company. She is a very effective speaker, with just the right note of urgency in her young voice.
The march on Friday, December 6 coincided with Fridays for Future, the youth movement that follows Greta Thunberg. The organizers – “Marcha por el Clima de Madrid” – estimated the crowd at 500,000; the government claimed 15,000. It was big, for sure. The route was long, about seven kilometers from Atocha station roundabout to Nuevo Ministerios.

We joined the march over an hour after its formal beginning time. As we walked we tired, and the march itself staggered greatly, with huge gaps opening up. At one point, the procession split. As we walked back I saw the CGT, the anarchist union. Malena said yes, the CNT, the other anarchist union, had been on the other street!, although I hadn’t seen them. (Weirdly, these unions split in the 1980s.)
As we passed a highway bridge along the route, a banner drop happened. It was @KletterKinder, the climbing kids, proclaiming Greta Thunberg’s words – “How dare you?!”

“How Dare You?!”

We arrived near the head of the march where a giant screen had been mounted. We could barely glimpse it, but heard the later words of Greta Thunberg clearly, her urgent voice, then the low rumble of Javier Bardem, the most prominent Spanish celebrity to back the cause. Although many saw and heard the speakers, most would arrive long after the formal presentations had finished. They heard the music; we left before.

Since the march started so late the sun set, and much of the route was dim-to-dark. The photos I made were poor. Many marchers had anticipated the darkness, and a number of banners and signs were lit with light-strips. The “medusas” – jellyfish carried on sticks – were all lit up as well. I’d seen the workshop in the art space, but the group made them somewhere else, so I can’t report how they did them. (Lots of plastic, surely.) A jolly feminist contingent carried most of these, and it was an impressive array.
All the music made a strong impact as the march dragged on. We saw a big drum corps from Galicia – a brass marching band – a lone piper with a drummer, and the occasional kid with a drum. A small group of women parked themselves where the road divided, and sang choral songs, old left classics. Many stopped to join them, and spirits were lifted.

“We’re Fucked”

We turned and walked back along the route of the march, seeing the later arrivals. The giant balloon globe with a burning fuse of Greenpeace – a tall walking puppet which interacted with the people around it, creating a mobile performative environment – of course the big-head Chilean politicians, cabezudos – and a swinging crowd of the Extinction Rebels, the XR group, hundreds of them, carrying flags on sticks, with a banner slogan “We’re fucked”.

One bunch of them cried out against Trump – “Es un fracaso! Eres un payaso!” (In unpoetic English: “It’s a disaster! You’re a clown!”)
The most ambitious and wildly energetic of all was the Sound Swarm, organized by Enmedio collective. These black clad performers, carrying round green signs backed with black-and-white images of extinct animals and human skulls, ran, leaped, and lay down in the street as they made various sustained sounds and noises.
These veteran artivists proclaimed the Sound Swarm to be “a participatory orchestra of loudspeakers, a noisy swarm of angry bees agitating everything in its path. An acoustic and visual experiment that, if successful, should help us occupy our bodies, rediscover the shape of our skulls and re-inhabit our skeleton’s skeleton, while giving a shout-out to endangered species and the sacred art of life itself.”

As we walked past the end of the march, a dozen garbage trucks and street sweepers were moving in to sweep up – nothing. The march was abnormally clean.
Oh, the whale! It seems that it made it onto the streets after all, on Sunday, although I didn’t hear about it.


“Art in Action in Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Sculptures created to bring awareness about the need for water protection and the explosive crude fracked oil brought by rail through the center of the city.” 2018.
By Susan Simensky Bietila (gated site; few free articles allowed)

Activist Art at COP 21 Climate Conference Paris 2015
by Nicolas Lampert

#ChaoCarbon campaign
Artists have played an important role in this campaign against coal power in Chile.

Kate Brown, “‘All Culture Is Going to Trash as Soon as the Food Runs Out’: Why Extinction Rebellion’s Climate Activists Are Targeting Art Basel Miami Beach”, December 3, 2019

Enmedio collective's Sound Swarm

The whale on Sunday
“El movimiento Extinction Rebellion marcha en Madrid por ‘los océanos muertos’”

Saturday, December 7, 2019

"Artivism" at COP 25: About a Whale

November 12, 2019, MADRID – It was the last night of the Ingobernable social center. No one knew, but the next morning it would be evicted. I waited outside with the rest for the usual 7 p.m. opening to join the Extinction Rebellion assembly. A young man with lipstick and painted nails opened. Upstairs some two dozen people were walking around singing, practicing a chorale for the “funeral for the seas” to be part of the big demonstration Friday for the COP 25. The Cumbre Social por el Clima Madrid 2019 – the Social Summit – would begin the next day. (The Democracy Now video program will cover that event during the week December 8-13.)
The young man, named Lukas, told me they were also making a giant whale skeleton for the procession. Saturday they would start. It had been a while since I was in La Ingob, and new wall paintings had appeared. I must bring my camera on Saturday, I thought.
But Saturday there was no meeting. The morning after my visit, La Ingobernable was evicted. Instead of whale-building there was a huge crowd of people out front of the barricades erected by the police. More than a thousand rallied to yell their rage at the loss. A tweet urged people to come with flowers to mourn the closure, but I may have been the only one carrying a sunflower. Everyone else was angry, yelling: “One eviction, another occupation!” Pablo Carmona, a councilman in the last city government unseated by the rightwing, wrote that there was never a chance for legalization of La Ingobernable. The foot-dragging of the unseated left city council may have cost them their base in the last election.
Ten years ago, Pablo Carmona had taken me to visit CSO Seco, my first squatted social center in Madrid. (I blogged the visit on this site at the time.) Seco in 2009 was in an old school building. It’s logo was the pink panther. After eviction and a loud demonstration, the collective had been given a room in a corner of a newly constructed city social center in the deeps of Vallekas, amidst an all new urbanization. It was there that the construction of the giant whale skeleton was to continue.

Anatomically Correct

Lukas’ plan for the piece was anatomically correct, which meant building up layer upon layer of newspaper and paper tape on thin cardboard shapes to make the massive whale vertebrae. I did three which could then be papier mached, then painted. The ribs were more elaborate, requiring wire armatures. The skeleton parts were later moved to a room in central Madrid. The UGT union building at c/ Horateleza 88, was given over to activists coming for the official COP 25 and its aftermath, the social summit. Ecologistas en Acción has an office there, and I am guessing that very active nationwide organization played a key role in securing this excellent site for the activists of the social summit.

The ribs of the whale at CSO Seco

The building was buzzing when I visited. Rooms had become dormitories, and were just beginning to fill up. Many were named for murdered indigenous activists Chico Mendes and Berta Caceres. One for Mariella Franco. There is a Standing Rock room as well. Indigenous people are the ones on the front lines against primitive extractive capital – mining, dam-building, oil and gas drilling. It is their lands and waters being ravaged.
5 December – journal extract: I am on the subway to the UGT convergence center with a giant cardboard box. It’s a beauty – 123x49 cm, from a “digital signage” device. It can make four great solid paper fish for the funeral of the seas. The “artivist” party is tonight. I wonder if I’ll meet someone I know? Or… what can one do? What one can is all, and that’s a bit done. It seems pitifully little, but cardboard is heavy in quantity, even this one box.
Reflecting on all the people killed defending resources – land, trees, water, animals. They are not only “resources” but the beautiful raiment of our earth. It is fitting to call these “wars”. And these are new kinds of deaths…. Although not for indigenous peoples!
The dimensions of the coming action are clear in the people gathering in the UGT building claimed for the COP week as a convergence center. They are coming from all over Europe, with many from South America since the Chileans are taking the lead in organizing the social challenge to the COP which was displaced from their country on account of the persistent unrest. (Over a million were on the streets of Santiago in late October.)

Trying to Be Useful

I printed out a bunch of posters I found online. Most are from the invaluable JustSeeds cooperative website. I run around the UGT building putting them up on the wall. These are excellent designs, many from the NYC Climate Strike earlier this year, and others from COP 21 in Paris 2015. I think they are much better than the XR posters, and better by far than the bland UN and NGO produced images.

I run into Terry Craven of the Desperate Literature bookstore; he’s doing finance for Extinction Rebellion, and quickly falls into conversation with a group of English. As he passes, I tell him I’m trying to boost morale for the people who are sleeping and eating in the center.
That is a lot of what is going on in our lives now, not only among climate activists and the many indigenous people here. Things are continuously changing at a pace which is hard to conceive, and is demoralizing. One group at this COP social summit is dedicated to helping people to cope with the sadness they feel. Reason alone can’t help when the problem is so grand, so systemic, so entirely engrained in the way we live our lives. Climate change means life change.

What’s In the Belly of the Whale

That’s right – plastic.
Last night on TV channel 6 (“La Sexta”) broadcast “Vivir sin plástico”, living without plastic which is a plague in the world’s oceans. It was astonishing, saddening, sobering to see how completely our lives have been permeated by this material. While initially modelled on insect waxes and resins, modern plastic is made from petroleum and has a functionally eternal life. Scraps of discarded single-use plastic are used by sea animals as sites to deposit eggs, which are eaten by turtles and whales. Every commercial haul of fish brings up a large quantity of discarded plastic which fishermen deposit in special containers on the docks.

How did we get along without this material? How did food circulate? It’s hard to remember grocery shopping before plastic bags. Food was shopped in baskets, cans, paper bags, and glass containers. In Spain, all glass bottles had a few centimes deposit and had to be returned for cleaning and refilling.
I was a hippie in college, and acquired the habit of buying food in bulk, recycling and composting. This hasn’t been possible to maintain living in big cities. NYC has numerous health food stores which support aspects of a plastic-free lifeway. (Not any longer a “style” but a “way”, yea.) Most people don’t shop at them, nor do they live like that. Now, living abroad, the Spanish food distribution system is really into plastic, and “bio” stores are few and underdeveloped compared to their US counterparts.
The way I lived as a student 50 years ago is the way we need to live again now.

NEXT: The Big Procession


Pablo Carmona, "Cómo gobernar a La Ingobernable. Relatos de una negociación imposible"

"2019 Chilean protests" at

Desperate Literature | Librería Interhttps://desperateliterature.com/nacional — Madrid.

Subjects | Environment & Climate - Justseeds

Climate change activism - The Independent
https://www.independent.co.uk › ... › Education News
28 nov. 2019 - 'Standing shoulder to shoulder with activists helps overcome sense of powerlessness,' head says ...

Vivir sin plástico: dos familias eliminan el plástico de su vida durante un mes

Vivir sin plástico - Acompáñanos en nuestro camino hacia una ...

100 Steps to a Plastic-Free Life

The vertebrae of the great whale at CSO Seco

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My Visit to New York City (Part One)

Curt Hoppe’s “Downtown Portraits”, Spring 2019

I’m writing a memoir. “What makes you think your life is interesting enough for a book?” a woman at a New York commune’s Friday dinner asked. It’s not me, I replied, it’s my passage through some scenes over years. I lived the last quarter of the 20th century in lower Manhattan, participating in the art and media world under different hats.
I lived in and around Soho and the Lower East Side, met innumerable artists and worked with dozens. Some became famous. Always I wrote, for Artforum, Art-Rite, the East Village Eye and for myself.
I was a critic, an editor, a graphic arts worker, a video artist, a video distributor, and an art historian. My collective engagements, with the artists’ group Colab and the cultural center ABC No Rio, turned into political positions. At the end of the century I moved to suburbia, returned to graduate school, and produced Art Gangs, the book which gives this blog its title.
My planned memoir will illuminate aspects of that extraordinary period in cultural life and production which are less explored. I was politicized, which is a deprivileged tendency in the art world. I will argue for and explain about the political turn in downtown art and culture, and the significance of collective action by artists.
While a good deal of this book is already written, I spent September and October of ‘19 with my partner in an apartment in Crown Heights, visiting libraries, gallery events and talking with old friends and comrades. I had prepared for the trip in Milwaukee in August, reading memoirs of the period and catalogues about Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The Model of the Period

Jean-Michel is the late 20th century New York Apollo, the demi-god whose trajectory and career has become the lens through which the late ‘70s and ‘80s downtown culture is viewed. I had the singular fortune of a collaborative moment with him, which was recalled in an exhibition earlier this year at the Schunck Kunsthalle in Heerlen, The Netherlands – “Basquiat: The Artist and His New York Scene.”
That it was “his” scene was affirmed in Sara Driver’s film Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years… (2018; streaming on multiple platforms). Howl! Happening gallery in NYC celebrated Sara's film with a very differently conceived exhibition, “Zeitgeist: The Art Scene of Teenage Basquiat”. In that one, everybody piled on.
Howl! gallery has become the locus for much of the commemorative exhibitionary work of the people involved during late 20th century downtown culture. And, as I was to discover, a sort of Lower East Side social club and senior center for some extraordinary artists.
The practice at Howl gallery is a continuous historical reflection generalized through exhibitionary procedure, mobilizing of personal archives, and expanded through panel discussions. Here I should wax philosophical, quote Walter Benjamin on history and memory, etc. Yes, surely it is that, as it always is. (Quote Herodotus here.) But it’s also a cohort growing old – and those who didn’t. Reflections overtake cultural workers as, in a sense, they run out of subjects and recycle their motifs, experiences, making sense of their lives and products as they drift slowly into temporal distance.
People didn’t pay attention then, but it was important! Even this artist who died was very significant for us then. So said Carlo McCormick about Nicolas Moufarrege, as an artist writing criticism; Moufarrege had a show up at the Queens Museum this fall.

Ambition Meets Resources

I want to write an “expanded memoir”… although I’m not sure what that means. At first I’d thought to catch up with what’s been written by academics about the period I lived. But I think now most of that is in journals, not books, and I have not kept up.

Defacement, painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio in 1983, is about the death of Michael Stewart. An exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum this year recalled the event and its repercussions among artists.

Upon arriving in NYC, I realized I was unprepared to make use of the archives and libraries where I had reserved places. Moreover they were all in the process of transition, both physical and in their conditions of use. Bad timing. Access to archival collections has been both complicated and tightened, and, in the case of MoMA, was simply closed.
But my trouble wasn’t with libraries. It was with my own plan and intention. I want to write a useful book, clear in intention, that marks out experiences I feel are important for students of the period to understand, and to investigate further. So the ‘expansion’ is into questions, doors opening along the way of what I write, or which are left unopened only shown, or just a handle jiggled before moving on.

Trouble in the Library

Andrea Callard was Colab secretary during its earliest years. So a stint with her Colab files in the NYU research library was first on my list of archival tasks. NYU has aggregated their research collections. They had fortunately reopened after a renovation bare days before my arrival, however their access procedures have changed, requiring online requests for everything. The new system is still a little squeaky, and I myself had not changed gears.
The kind of bumbling around among the different archives and their collections that I recall from working there before is no longer possible. In years past one would enter the Fales collection, with its oil paintings and oriental carpets, and page through a book describing the collections, order folders from a box, be reminded of another connection, and other another box. Or go to Tamiment with its vitrines of extraordiary old political news, sparking new connections, and have a whole box put onto your desk.
Now everything must be submitted in advance online, and all must be prepared from the online descriptions. Contact with the material is entirely e-mediated. Moreover, there is no ‘item level description’ of folders, leaving one to guess what might be in them. A folder may contain only one card, or it might contain an undiscovered 12 page manuscript – you can’t know until you open it yourself. The people were nice and helpful for the most part, although there is always at least one type of archivist who really only wants to serve you one folder at a time, and wants you to sit at the desk until it comes. And when you go to lunch the box goes back to general storage, so you have to wait for it to come back out on the truck. Those are sqeaks.
So bumble one will, and bumble I did, although not in the way that I had hoped. Seated in the newly built antiseptic room with an overlook of the NYU housing project and its tree-lined streets I realized that I was going institutionally insane, and in fact wasting my time.

Into the Weeds with Early Colab

I have read things written about Colab that I think are basically not true. So I was with Andrea’s files to refresh my vague memories of those years of meetings. (My own papers from those years were destroyed by subtenants in a 1987 loft disaster.) After working with Andrea’s Colab box, I realized that during Colab’s first years there were very few written minutes, or even written agendas. In my ‘reconstructed memory’, I think what happened is that Andrea read aloud from her notes and asked if anyone had anything to add. Coleen Fitzgibbon mentioned that she had some audio recordings of early meetings, so that might indeed be verified.
The actual agendas of monies to be voted (or not) to ABC No Rio in 1980 are in Robert Goldman’s papers in his house, not at NYU, and not in ABC No Rio’s institutional archives, which I also visited.
Finally I realized that Andrea’s Colab box couldn’t answer many of my basic questions. Ergo, there is no administrative history of Collaborative Projects, no account of how the group functioned and how that evolved. So that’s a project for the future.

“Established 1978”

The group called Colab began to coalesce around 1977. The core of it was art students in the newly-established Whitney Independent Study Program. They were inspired by the older artists who talked to them – about the Art Workers Coalition of 1969-70, about European politics, about institutional prejudices and the realities of the art market. Most of those young artists also worked for the older ones. Out of this cloud of people, young artists working in various disciplines who knew each other from living downtown, a group formed. Many people didn’t believe in such a formation. Some opposed the not-for-profit incorporation which was necessary to apply for funds. Others hated meetings. So they drifted away, sometimes starting with a project and not continuing.
For example, I discovered – (again, not noted in the archival descriptions!) – a long text by James Nares about All Color News, the early cable TV news show that straddled Colab’s nascent period. Nares did not participate in ACN, although nearly 40 years later s/he made a film called The Street.

Well, that’s a start… on a planned series of posts around my researches in NYC in fall ‘19. Blogs turn into books, as happened with Occupation Culture, so the same thing is gonna happen here. Stay tuned….


Curt Hoppe’s “Downtown Portraits”, Spring 2019
Image is from Bowery Boogie blog review of show at Bernaducci Gallery, May 2019;

“Basquiat: The Artist and His New York Scene,” spring 2019, at Schunck, Heerlen, NL
See also: review by 'Camee' at: https://www.amsterdamstreetart.com/basquiat-the-artist-and-his-new-york-scene/

Sara Driver, “Boom for Real” (2018)
(streaming on multiple platforms)

“Zeitgeist: The Art Scene of Teenage Basquiat”, at Howl arts gallery, 2018

“Nicolas Moufarrege: Recognize My Sign” at Queens Museum, 2019-20

Defacement, painted by Jean-Michel Basquiat on the wall of Keith Haring’s studio in 1983, is about the death of Michael Stewart

NYU’s finding aid for Andrea Callard papers

“All Color News” sampler at Ubuweb, ca. 1978

nearly 18 minutes of James Nares’ "The Street" (2013), with audio by Thurston Moore

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Interference Archive: de Brooklyn a Madrid

con carteles de la serie "Celebrate Peoples History”
con catálogos y revistas, y otra propaganda gráfica producido por miembros de JUSTSEEDS, una red norteamericano de artistas radicales, trabajando para y dentro de movimientos sociales.
▲ Es parte de JACA 2019 extendida ▲
LUGAR: @ ABM Confecciones c/ Encarnación González, nº8 Bajo
Madrid – Puente de Vallekas
FECHAS ► Apertura mier. 12 junio 19:00-24:00►Abierto 13 y 14 Junio 18:00-21:00

a derecha: 2010 book of the CPH series
Este es la primera exposición en España de arte y publicaciones de estas importantes redes de artistas radicales y archivistas en los Estados Unidos.
El programa incluye: varias docenas de impresiones litográficas originales de la serie de carteles "Celebrate Peoples History" de artistas de la cooperativa Justseeds - pósters y fotos de exposiciones en el Archivo de Interferencia autónomo en Brooklyn - catálogos y publicaciones del Archivo de Interferencia durante 8 años de actividad – los seis numeros publicados de Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture, y más.
Un expo coincidente con la JACA 2019 //
FECHAS ► Apertura mier. 12 junio 19:00-24:00►Abierto 13 y 14 Junio 18:00-21:00

La Cooperativa de Artistas de Justseeds es una red descentralizada de 29 artistas comprometidos con el compromiso social, ambiental y político. El archivo de interferencia en Brooklyn es un archivo autónomo de movimiento social. El archivo ha producido numerosas exposiciones de materiales de archivo con catálogos. Su misión es explorar "la relación entre la producción cultural y los
movimientos sociales". Josh MacPhee comenzó el proyecto de póster Celebrate Peoples History en 1998. Escribe:
“Los afiches de Celebrate Peoples History están arraigados en la tradición de hágalo usted mismo de propaganda política producida en masa y distribuida, pero se desvían para encarnar los principios de democracia, inclusión y participación grupal en la escritura e interpretación de la historia. Es raro hoy en día que un cartel político sea festivo, y cuando lo es, casi siempre se enfoca en un pequeño canon de individuos masculinos: Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, Che o Mandela. En lugar de crear otro conjunto exclusivo de héroes, he generado un conjunto diverso de carteles que dan vida a los momentos de éxito en la historia de las luchas por la justicia social. Con ese fin, les pedí a los artistas y diseñadores que encontraran eventos, grupos y personas que hayan avanzado en la lucha colectiva de la humanidad para crear un mundo más equitativo y justo. Los carteles cuentan historias desde la posición subjetiva de los artistas, y con frecuencia son historias de desvalidos, escritos fuera de la historia. El objetivo de este proyecto no es contar una historia definitiva, sino sugerir una nueva relación con el pasado.

“Hoy en día, los carteles de CPH adornan las paredes de los dormitorios, apartamentos, centros comunitarios, aulas y calles de la ciudad. Se han impreso más de 125 diseños diferentes en los últimos 20 años, lo que suma más de 350,000 carteles en total. Aunque yo mismo he organizado y financiado estos carteles, siempre han sido un proyecto colectivo. "Más de 150 artistas han diseñado pósters, varias tiendas han hecho la impresión, docenas han corrido por la noche pegándolos en la calle y miles han ayudado a distribuirlos en todo el mundo".
La mayoría de los artistas del proyecto CPH pertenecen a la Cooperativa de Artistas Justseeds. Los artistas de Justseeds están comprometidos con el compromiso social, ambiental y político. “Con miembros que trabajan desde los EE. UU., Canadá y México, Justseeds funciona como una colaboración unificada de impresores de ideas similares y como una colección suelta de personas creativas con puntos de vista y métodos de trabajo únicos. Creemos en el poder transformador de la expresión personal en concierto con la acción colectiva. Con este fin, producimos portafolios colectivos, contribuimos con gráficos a las luchas populares por la justicia, trabajamos en colaboración tanto dentro como fuera de la cooperativa, construimos grandes instalaciones escultóricas en galerías y pasta de trigo en las calles, todo mientras que nos brindamos apoyo mutuo a diario. aliados y amigos ".
El proyecto autónomo de archivo de interferencia fue iniciado por Josh MacPhee y Dara Greenwald en 2011. MacPhee escribe: “La misión del archivo de interferencia es explorar la relación entre la producción cultural y los movimientos sociales. Este trabajo se manifiesta en una colección de archivos, publicaciones, un centro de estudio y programas públicos que incluyen exhibiciones, talleres, charlas y proyecciones, todo lo cual fomenta el compromiso crítico y creativo con la rica historia de los movimientos sociales. El archivo contiene muchos tipos de objetos que los propios participantes crean como parte de los movimientos sociales: carteles, folletos, publicaciones, revistas, libros, camisetas y botones, imágenes en movimiento, grabaciones de audio y otros materiales.

“A través de nuestra programación, utilizamos estos eventos culturales para animar historias de personas que se movilizan para la transformación social. Consideramos que el uso de nuestra colección es una forma de preservar y honrar las historias y la cultura material que a menudo se encuentra marginada en las instituciones principales. Como una organización completamente voluntaria, todos los miembros de nuestra comunidad son bienvenidos y alentados a dar forma a nuestra colección y programación; Somos un espacio para que todos los voluntarios aprendan unos de otros y desarrollen nuevas habilidades. "Trabajamos en colaboración con proyectos afines, y fomentamos el compromiso crítico y creativo con nuestras propias historias y luchas actuales".

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Jean-Michel and the Times Square Show in Heerlen

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s cover for “Rammellzee vs. K Rob” single, called the most valuable hip-hop record collectible; Red Bull did a retrospective of Rammellzee’s work in 2018, and produced an amazing 9-minute video for it

We recently trekked to Heerlen, a Dutch town not far from the touristic old city of Maastricht, to see "Basquiat: The Artist and His New York Scene." The curators chose to recollect the Times Square Show of 1980, Jean-Michel’s first public art exhibition, so like several other Colab artists, I had a piece in the exhibition. It’s a collaboration with Jean-Michel, actually, albeit somewhat inadvertent.
Why was the show in Heerlen? It was not clear. The city isn’t so exciting. It’s basically a busted mining town whose leaders have made a long series of bad urban decisions.
It has a deep history. The Romans built a camp there called Coriovallum in order to control a road junction, and the town was an agrarian center for centuries, bouncing often into the hands of various rulers. A coal mining boom at the turn of the last century brought climate-killing prosperity to the town, and they decided to raze their historic center. That is why tourists go to Maastricht. When coal got cheaper elsewhere starting in '65 (hooray global capitalism!), Heerlen lost 60,000 jobs.
As it seems was their habit, the city then demolished its major industrial landmarks, the tallest mine chimneys in Europe, called -- "Lange Lies" (tall Liz), and "Lange Jan" (tall John). They have a 12th century church and defensive tower (a combination you see also in Maastricht), but it was weirdly renovated inside into a blank nothing in the 1950s. A garden dwarf-style pilgrim statue smirks from a niche over the entrance.

Heerlen's Glaspalast. (Photo by Dirk van der Made)

I don't mean at all to laugh at Heerlen... but the author Thomas Bernhard (1931–1989) was born there, which tells you a lot. I love his writing, but it is seriously crazy and bleak.
They do have one jewel. The museum is housed inside an old department store, the Modehuis Schunck. It's now called the Glass Palace, built by Frits Peutz, and it is a startling building for 1935.
The restaurant on top of it is Michelin rated, and served me a “speciaal Basquiat-bier”, an IPA, which was, like the Glaspalast, startlingly good.

”Same Old Beer” by Brouwerij De Fontein at Brasserie Mijn Streek, Heerlen

I’ll have to read the catalogue to discover the special relevance Jean-Michel Basquiat’s story had for Heerlen, but it was clearly a big deal there. The museum did many special events and education projects around the show during its run. Banners were hung everywhere along the shopping street, and during our time in the museum troops of schoolchildren came through.
As an art tourist parachuting in from a global city, my main interest was in how the show dealt with “my” history. But still I wonder: Why Basquiat here?
Most of the art in the Times Square Show of 1980 dealt directly with urban themes. What did Heerlen get from this? Just a flash in the national pan? (The Queen visited.) Or some important cultural stimulus? A short plug for the catalogue says the NYC of the ‘70s and ‘80s “mirrors the post-industrial character of the city of Heerlen, the vacancies and drug problems that followed the region’s economic downturn” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Hmmm...
Marc Miller was hired as a consultant for the show, and he promoted the extensive inclusion of work by Colab artists from the Times Square Show. Marc told me the curators had intended to include Dutch artists influenced by Basquiat and the graffiti movement. They didn’t. Maybe, fearing for their walls, the powers that be put the ‘ixnay’ on that part of the show. (I’ve seen that happen before.) Or they ran out of room.
There’s a monitor playing Manfred Kirchheimer’s 1981 documentary film Stations of the Elevated, the first to document the graffiti movement in New York City. Jean-Michel’s relations with graffiti artists like Rammellzee, the Iconoclastic Panzerist prophet of Afro-Futurism (1960?-2010), who dressed like a Japanese transformer and had his major art career in Europe are not explored. Al Diaz’s role in SAMO©, Basquiat’s first art project, is not mentioned. Diaz has recently revved up his art career after a strong showing in the Howl! Happening exhibition last year “Zeitgeist: The Art Scene of Teenage Basquiat.” That show coincided with the release of Sara Driver’s film Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of J-MB which was playing in the gallery. The film makes the case for the show, as various NYC people speak of the artist, like Lee Quiñones, who says, “He knew he only had a short time.” Diaz said the same.
It was fascinating to see the documents of the apartment J-MB shared with Alexis Adler in her photos of Jean-Michel and his objects, plus some drawings and texts he left her during the years. Not long after, he was hanging with other graffiti artists at Art-Rite editor Edit DeAk’s loft apartment in Soho, as a tagged-up wall excavated some years ago proved.
With his neo-expressionist cryptograms of American mestizo identity, Basquiat marked a major changing of the guard in “American art.” I was dismissive when Stefan Eins called Colab an art movement. Fashion/Moda (Fashion 时装 Moda МОДА), Eins’ project in the South Bronx, was a crucial pivot point during the late ‘70s-early ‘80s. But I get it now. “Colab” is not just the historic organization with the generic name (in full, Collaborative Projects, Inc.). It is a description of what was going on then, and in a way generally in post-modern art – multimedia experimentation with social relevance, and artists working together fluidly between projects, i.e., artists like musicians like filmmakers. All of this was wrapped up in NYC in the '60s – I am boiling it together with Fluxus, an important radical precursor movement with which Eins himself was involved -- '70s, and '80s, a multi-cultural anti-academic bohemia. So art historians in the future can talk about "colab" with the now-canonical Jean-Michel and David Wojnarowicz, both of whom did all of that.
(I’ve been blogging about Wojo’s work in anticipation of the big show coming to Reina Sofia museum in Madrid this May ‘19. One of the posts includes a consideration of the Times Square Show in relation to him.)
More specifically about the show, one thing I think they missed is Basquiat’s clear and close involvement with fashion, and the experimental radical clothing designers and marketing of the day. He was making t-shirts in Alexis Adler’s apartment. At the Times Square Show, after he left me in the lobby to deal with the imbroglio over the sign, he went directly upstairs to see the girls in the Fashion Lounge. He sprayed at least one mural on the wall there, and maybe he helped Mary Lemley and the others paint up some of the 500-pound bale of clothing that comprised the principal part of that installation. Sophie Vieille, a participant in that installation, tells the story on the website of the Hunter College exhibition, “Times Square Show Revisited” (2012).

Photo of 'rediscovered' wall painting made by graffiti artists visiting the late Edit DeAk's loft on Wooster Street during the late '70s, early '80s.

Jean-Michel’s work can be seen briefly in Andrea Callard’s slide show record of the TSS, which was clicking away in the gallery. It seems rather indifferent.
The perspicacious art critic Anthony Haden-Guest wrote of this fashion connection in an article for Vanity Fair not long after Jean-Michel's death, a pre-digital text now online. Haden-Guest tracks Jean-Michel into the lair of Andy. the premier "sellout" artist he most admired who was running a magazine dedicated to fashion and media celebrities, Interview.
"Visiting the actual Factory, he sold Warhol a few more Xeroxes for a dollar. Warhol gave him four or five cans of expensive Liquitex paint, which he slathered on more clothing and sold at Patricia Field’s shop on Eighth Street.
"Basquiat was by then a natural choice to star in a movie about downtown called The New York Beat. It featured Debbie Harry, was financed by Rizzoli, directed by the photographer Edo (later questioned in the [Andrew] Crispo [murder] case), written by Glenn O’Brien, and based loosely on Basquiat’s own life. ‘It never came out,’ O’Brien says, ‘because a couple of the Rizzolis went to the slammer.’"
The rest of the article is a harrowing read. I can’t go on with it. Basically, Jean-Michel was sucked up into the tornado of international jet set new wave art culture business. And, like his jazz heroes, he drugged himself up to get through it all. Which finally killed him.
I read Phoebe Hoban's Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art (2004), which was dark enough. Haven’t yet tackled Jennifer Clement’s Widow Basquiat (2014) about his relationship with Suzanne Malouk. It’ll just put new perspective on my last sight of him, in an elevator in the Cable Building, riding up to work on his last NYC show. He was puffed up, looking woebegone and dazed. We didn’t say anything to each other.
Every step of his whirlwind trip to fame and death reveals some important aspect of the superheated moment when the art market went global.
Like David Wojnarowicz, Jean-Michel Basquiat is a kind of prism of his moment. And, like Wojo, Basquiat as a cultural figure represents the forceful emergence of a previously minoritarian position in American-Western art. Both were in their way history painters, the highest genre in the classic hierarchy of kinds of painting. I’m talking deep art history, what – climate apocalypse aside – can remain of these artists in 100 years. Basquiat was more. He was the Jackie Robinson of the western art market, the post-colonial ice breaker for waves of artists of African heritage who had previously been frozen out of the mainstream. Today his work commands some of the highest auction prices, long eclipsing stars like Jasper Johns.
As a prism of his times, Basquiat’s work and importance remains available for what we all, like School of Paris around Picasso, can get out of him, reflections of the intense interest in his work and story. It’s great for Colab, and for the artists of the Times Square Show, who can hitch a ride on the back of the great black whale.


"Basquiat: The Artist and His New York Scene", Schunck, Heerlen, NL. Feb-June, 2019 https://basquiat.schunck.nl/

Heerlen – “It has a deep history”
I took all that from “Heerlen,” Wikipedia in English

Ashleigh Kane, “The story of SAMO©, Basquiat’s first art project”, Dazed Digital, September 2017

"Zeitgeist: The Art Scene of Teenage Basquiat" at Howl! Happening Gallery, 2018

Boom For Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat - Trailer
the writer of this blog flashes by in this trailer with a building shape on his head

Stream Sara Driver’s film here

"recently excavated tagged-up wall"
“151 Wooster: Where The Basquiat At?”, by Sheila, Gawker, December 2007
Historic graffiti mural discovered in Manhattan building, December 2007

Stefan Eins
on Wikipedia
artist’s website – http://www.oneunoeins.com/

Fashion 时装 Moda МОДА
is on Wikipedia

the “imbroglio over the sign”
The story of the collaborative sign board I made with Basquiat is briefly told in the Schunck exhibition catalogue. It’ll be more fully described in my next book – Some Title TK from Some Publisher.

“Times Square Show Revisited” - Sophie Vieille interview; Hunter College CUNY art gallery, 2012

Anthony Haden-Guest, “Burning Out,” Vanity Fair November 1988

classic hierarchy of kinds of painting

The blogger standing next to his signboard in Heerlen. And yes, indeed I did.